(Pinot noir caresses the tongue like no other)
Pinot noir is the indigenous red grape of Burgundy and has been responsible for the worldwide fame of the specie.
Romans already knew about pinot noir’s delicacy and planted it in Burgundy and as far north as Champagne.
But the good monks of the Cistercian order recognized the true flavour and mouth feel of the grape and nurtured it in Burgundy since 1200.
Over the centuries pinot noir researches have selected clones with a range of characteristics. To date, there are 46 clones that are being used by several growers and more are being discovered.
It is a very sensitive vine requiring a limestone rich soil, and moderately cool and long growing season. Pinot noir has a thin skin, is susceptible to all kinds of diseases, low in tannins, and does not tolerate high yields.
In successful vintages (approximately three in a decade in Burgundy) the wines turn out to be delicious and unequalled.
More than any other red grape variety, pinot noir expresses a precise sense of place, whether in its ancestral home in Burgundy, or around the world.
It is planted in Germany, the U S A (Oregon, California, New York State), Canada (Ontario, and British Columbia), Australia, New Zealand, and a few other countries.
For the pinot lover, and there are millions, there is one strip of hallowed land where this grape reaches its pinnacle; it can be an awe-inspiring wine if planted on the right terroir and not over cropped (five tons per hectare or less).
Burgundy is the ancestral home, and still Eden for the grape.
Burgundian winemakers maintain that they use pinot noir, a notoriously fastidious grape, as an instrument with which to express the voice of the terroir.
Burgundy’s mosaic of tiny parcels of land is perfectly suited to pinot noir. Primarily based upon marl and limestone, vineyards offer an astonishing variety of soil and chemical composition from parcel to parcel
The difference between a vineyard in the valley and one on the slope (100 – 200 metres above) are remarkable.
The continental climate provides desirable diurnal temperature variation that is critical to ripening while maintaining acidity levels. Because of the inconsistency of the weather, the style and expression of the grape varies from vintage to vintage. It is important for every wine lover to carefully study vintage charts before making buying decisions. Ideally, wine lovers should taste any expensive Burgundy (white or red) before buying.
This can be done by forming a wine club consisting of 20 – 25 members, and staging monthly or bi-monthly tasting sessions to share impressions and costs. Some wine merchants may even contribute a bottle or two for such events.
Pinot noir is an “individualistic” grape and rarely, if ever, blends well with others successfully, yet, in Burgundy; occasionally winemakers blend it with gamay in 2/3 and 1/3 proportion and call it passetougrains.
It can be a pleasant picnic wine, or served at an alfresco lunch.
German grape growers maintain the third largest pinot noir acreage in the world (Burgundy and the U S A rank first and second). German pinot noir (spatbugrunder in German) grows in the Ahr Valley, Rheingau, Palatinate, Middle Mosel and Hessia.
In the Ahr Valley, pinot noir ranks number one and yields very pale, light, and delicate wines in good vintages. The soil in the Ahr consists of grey wacke clay of volcanic origin. The vineyards are all south and southeast oriented to benefit maximally from the sun.
Niagara pinot noir has been identified as one of the key red varieties that form the foundation of Ontario’s wine reputation.
The Peninsula’s and Prince Edward County’s cool-climate growing conditions allow for the evolution of pinots that are very approachable with a fresh, bright fruit character (raspberries), and which can offer equal measures of elegance and vibrancy. They also demonstrate impressive versatility with food. In good vintages Ontario pinot noir can achieve greatness, and compare favourably with the best anywhere.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley, located on the same latitude as Burgundy, is certainly on the same philosophical wavelength. In fact, a few famous Burgundy wine shippers have bought land here and planted pinot noir ( i.e Joseph Drouhin). Nowhere outside of Burgundy has a wine region places such emphasis on pinot noir and with such success.
The volcanic soils of hillside vineyards, along with the maritime climate create conditions for producing aromatic, complex, refined, tongue-caressing, and elegant pinots.
The Pacific Ocean-moderated winters are just cold enough for vines to become dormant and recuperate.
The year round warmth of Central Coast (California) produces cool and approachable wines. Running along the coast from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, the Coastal Coast AVA is the largest in California. In particular, Santa Barbara an Monterey stand out for fine pinot noir vineyards.
These two regions offer straightforward fruit flavours with an easy-to-enjoy California flair Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is known for its big, bold pinot noir with a “swagger”.
Cool morning fogs allow for substantial diurnal temperature variation, often dropping up to 20 C overnight.
Russian River pinots are rich in texture, with good acidity, and berry flavours.
Napa Valleys Los Carneros region that stretches over to Sonoma County produces fine pinot noirs worth looking for.
Chile’s Limari Valley is heavily influences by the Humboldt Current that round along this narrow country’s coast.
The limestone based soil of the Limari Valley, and fogs of the Pacific Ocean create ideal conditions for pinot noir. The Valley is dry (100 millimetres of rainfall annually) which forces framers to irrigate judiciously.
The wines are elegant, fruity, refined, and mid-weight.
Australia is better known for its shiraz wines, but two regions produce fine pinto noirs – Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, and Tasmania.
Yarra Valley, very close to Melbourne, grows many white and red grapes, and its vicinity to the Tasman Sea and altitude of vineyards cerate excellent conditions for pinot noir.
Yarra Valley’s pinot noir can be aromatic, complex or “big” and forward.
Mornington Peninsula, further south, enjoys a cool climate particularly suitable for pinot noir.
Tasmania, surrounded by the Tasman Sea, is decidedly cool and pinot noir wines produced here are light fragrant, acid-driven, aromatic and delightful.
Most are consumed locally , but of those exported , not many reach North America.
New Zealand is famous for its sauvignon blanc, but in the last decade, Marlborough, and Nelson in the north of the South Island embarked on growing pinot noir.
The more famous region, Otago is located further south and has become world famous for its robust, pinot noir wines.
The vineyards of Otago are the world’s most southerly, and enjoy a dry continental climate, as compared to Burgundy. The vineyards are exposed to considerable diurnal temperature variations that influence aromas and flavours of the fruit.
Otago’s pinots are “big”, high in alcohol, with opulent mouth feel and soft tannins.